For some Brockhampton fans, the band’s farewell album felt like a fakeout, if not a betrayal. The form-breaking rap collective’s previous full lengths had been defined by both their abundance and their communal spirit—each was an unruly pileup of voices, personalities, and perspectives. But the group’s 2022 curtain call, The Family, released seven months after they announced their indefinite hiatus at Coachella, turned out to be less an actual Brockhampton album than a Kevin Abstract solo album about Brockhampton, with the project’s founder ruminating on the group in their absence. It was a fundamental contradiction: a one-sided Brockhampton record.

If The Family was Abstract’s eulogy for Brockhampton, his new solo album, Blanket, is his fresh start. In September, Abstract debuted this material at a short-notice live show in Hollywood, with a band that played up the heavy, grungy direction of this new material, all brooding fuzz, dropped tunings, and loud/soft whiplash. Abstract has flirted with rock music before, both with Brockhampton and on solo albums like 2016’s American Boyfriend, yet Blanket commits so completely that it feels like a true makeover. Where modernist rappers like Kenny Mason and Jim Legxacy dabble in guitars as part of a wider, rotating menu of styles, on Blanket, Abstract embraces them to the near total exclusion of rap.

It isn’t always a natural fit. With his whispery lower register, Abstract isn’t much of a rock singer, and he’s not much of a screamer either (his “woos!” on the title track are unsure and truncated, like a basketball fan realizing mid-yelp he’s cheering for the wrong team’s dunk). And too often he mistakes rawness for inspiration. Opener “When the Rope Post 2 Break” aims for Nirvana but plays more like a half-finished demo. Abstract pounded out the record relatively quickly, over just a few months, and he doesn’t disguise when he’s winging it.

What Abstract does bring to the table, though, is an ear for sticky, misshapen melodies and a rap producer’s sense of pacing, which keeps Blanket moving so briskly that its periodic clumsiness doesn’t bog it down much. When he sweetens the nervier edges of ’90s alternative with a strong shot of R&B, the results can be sublime: “Scream” charts an unlikely middle ground between Blonde and Surfer Rosa, while “Voyager” conjures the blistering passion of a Prince rock ballad.

As heavy as the album can be, with its raw-nerved surveys of alienation and rejection, Abstract knows when to lighten the mood. Whenever Blanket threatens to succumb to wallowing, he breaks things up with a peppy, Mac DeMarco/Alex G-style indie-rock tune like “Running Out” or “What Should I Do.” By the record’s final stretch, much of its initial angst has burned off, freeing Abstract to indulge the sweeter, poppier styles that come to him more naturally. On the exuberant “Real 2 Me,” he pines for a crush with puppy-dog longing (“When you signed my cast, I wish I broke both arms,” he gushes).

For the closer “My Friend,” featuring some understated vocal accompaniments from indie breakouts MJ Lenderman and Kara Jackson, Abstract captures the more painful flip side of infatuation, dwelling on the sting of unrequited romantic feelings. With its acoustic guitars and wistful twang, the track is Abstract’s biggest sonic departure yet from Brockhampton. Yet in another sense, it’s the song that feels most of a piece with his old group, simply by the presence of other voices. That’s the challenge that looms over his solo career: As compelling as Abstract can be on his own, he still sounds best when he has some company.

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Kevin Abstract: Blanket